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Remarks by Martin Kaplan Honoring Antonella Caruso

Martin Kaplan delivered the following remarks at Humanity in Action's Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Benefit on December 8, 2016, Christie's in New York City. Kaplan's remarks honor Antonella Caruso, the Director of the Middle East and West Asia Division in the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations. Kaplan is a member of Humanity in Action's Board of Directors and co-chair of the organization's Twentieth Anniversary Campaign Committee.

I’m Martin Kaplan, a member of the Board and co-chair with Marnie Imhoff of our Twentieth Anniversary Campaign and a member of the Board. 

I first met Antonella Caruso at the Humanity in Action International Conference of Fellows in Berlin in 2011. In a compelling presentation, Antonella described her work seeking political reconciliation among all parties in the Iraqi parliament, including reaching out to many tribal and religious leaders.  That program, funded by the Italian Foreign Ministry, was the only remaining such program in Iraq at that time. 

Antonella fostered the role of civil society, accountability, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. She showed respect for traditional reconciliation mechanisms among tribes and religious communities, and was respected by all of their leaders. Antonella gave particular attention to the plight of minority communities, most recently and violently revealed in the barbaric treatment of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS.

A year later, Antonella agreed to join the Law Advisory Council of the Fetzer Institute, and she played a significant role in our work in the field of Peace and Reconciliation, in programs ranging from Rwanda to Cambodia. 

In 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed her Director of the Middle East and West Asia Division of the Department of Political Affairs, a critical section of the UN, and Antonella has utilized her deep knowledge and new thinking in addressing Middle Eastern old conflicts, new crises, and continuing wars. 

We in the Western World are not immune to the dangers of societal collapse, so vividly demonstrated in Middle East nations. This year’s presidential election has unleashed a resurgence of the Know Nothing bigotry of the 1850s, now carried out by many descendants of those who were the objects of that prejudice, hatred and hostility. We thought America had overcome the time when signs in Boston read “Irish need not apply”; when prejudice against Italian, Eastern European and Jewish immigrants led to strict immigration quotas; when the racist internment of Japanese Americans, but not German-Americans, was upheld by the Supreme Court during World War II; and when persecution of African Americans in the South was common. 

We thought with the civil rights, women's rights and gay rights movements, that America was continuing its quest for a more perfect union, but now we know that the wave of nativism and authoritarianism in Western nations is a deep threat to democracy and the core values of our nation.

Americans are of many different colors, national backgrounds, and religions. But many minority Americans today, often born here, often descendants of citizens born here, feel like strangers, even refugees, in their own land---our own land. And newly trumped up fears of immigrants, whether Muslim, Mexican, Asian or others, is destroying the fabric of our society, in a vicious backlash against our own history.  

Antonella’s career, achievements and values resonate with the mission and work of Humanity in Action, which seeks to secure inclusive societies free of hate and hostility---here in America and throughout Europe. Our work is more important and necessary than ever. Antonella is a model for our Fellows and Senior Fellows, and we are honored to recognize her this evening!

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